Friday, February 17, 2006

Time Marches On...

Someone on another forum asked for some information about the history of chant, and it caused me to dig out my Concise History of Western Music. Consequently, I've been sidetracked today because I haven't read up on my music history in some time. In the chapter on French and Italian music in the fourteenth century, I found a quote of one Jacques de Liege, who was railing against the ars nova, and his writings struck me as being similar to what one could hear from any number of critics of modern liturgical music.

And I quote.........

"In a certain company in which some able singers and judicious laymen were assembled, and where modern motets in the modern manner and some old ones were sung, I observed that even the laymen were better pleased with the ancient motets and the ancient manner than with the new. And even if the new manner pleased when it was a novelty, it does so no longer, but begins to displease many. So let the ancient music and the ancient manner of singing be brought back to their native land; let them come back into use; let the rational art once more flourish. It has been in exile, along with the corresponding method of singing, as if violently cast out from the fellowship of singers, but violence should not be perpetual. Wherein does this studied lasciviousness in singing so greatly please, by which, as some think, the words are lost, the harmony of consonances is diminished, the value of the notes is changed, perfection is brought low, imperfection is exalted and measure is confounded?"

(from Speculum musicae, ca. 1325, Book 7, chapter 46, trans. by James McKinnon in Strunk, Source Readings in Music History, rev. ed. (1997); qtd. in Concise History of Western Music, Hanning (1998).)

Of course, we must remember that the new music that offended our dear Jacques is the work of Philippe de Vitry, Guillaume de Machaut, and their contemporaries -- regarded today as masters of the time -- and was longing for the return of the organa, clausulae, and quadrupla of Leonin and Perotin and the like. One of the high marks of ars nova music was the new use of what is now called duple meter ("imperfect"). The older, 13th century music, if metered at all, was "perfect" -- triple meter. Other rhythmic devices that were new for the time were syncopation and the hocket (and one only needs to listen to The Art of the Ground Round by P. D. Q. Bach to see the great fun that arises out of using hockets!)

Getting back to the point, after a foray into Music History Land, it seems to me that the battles we fight every day in regard to music in the Church is nothing new. Time marches on, and who knows what the next Jacques de Liege will be protesting 700 years from now.



Gerald Augustinus said...

The difference is that both Leonin/Perotin and Machault, Vitry etc were serious composers of great music. What the Church faces today is crap replacing timeless beauty.

PhiMuAlpha2681 said...

Interesting to know that Machault wrote the Messe de Notre Dame (a polyphonic setting) even though it was under great discouragement of the Church at the time (complicated settings obscuring the words of the liturgy and rendering the chants unrecognizable). Of course I agree with your second sentence. :-) And I doubt we'll read too much about certain people in music history books 700 years from now. Especially since M.H. is on the record saying that his music was written for the "church of today, and isn't intended to be sung years and years from now".

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum.